Birmingham has really changed over the last twenty years. Once a clubbing mecca of the Midlands, these days the city is better known for its culinary offerings.
The city that had helped create a whole new genre of music in Heavy Metal, had also fully embraced hip hop, house music and acid jazz a decade or so later. Bars which were primarily about the music, also offered food, some better than others. One of those was Circo, which was demolished to make way for Brum’s tallest tower at Holloway Circus.
I am privileged to remember Circo well, with its brilliant line-up of DJs, the bar food was exceptionally good! I still remember taking a demo tape to Circo co-owner Adam Johnson, when he ran Global Grooves Records in the Arcadian.
Fast forward to present day, and Adam now runs The Plough, Harborne. Adam is one of those guys who has the golden touch. He joins fellow music contemporaries Graham Smith (Urban Art Bars/Lord Clifden/Red Lion), and Adam Regan (Leftfoot/The Hare & Hounds) in their quest to keep Brum endowed with a cool pub scene.
Happening in Harborne!
On this occasion, I am a guest writing for Grapevine Birmingham, invited to sample The Plough’s new Boca Grande Tacos menu which is served to a hungry public every Wednesday.
Situated at the bottom (or top, depending on where you live) of Harborne high street, The Plough looks completely unassuming from the outside, a small town pub without grandeur.
However, step inside and you are greeted with a clean contemporary inn, sporting a modern interior, exposed brick walls, thick wooden tables and, while the building’s fabric is slightly utilitarian, it is softened by a creatively ‘happening’ decor.
From the ornate floral tiles, to vintage spotlights, and various modern collectibles dotted around, The Plough feels like a trendy modern country pub without a trace of the word ‘gastro’, it’s too upmarket for that. Harborne does have that village feel, but step outside and you can see the urbanity of Five Ways with its high rise office blocks nearby. This place is unique.
Boca Grande Tacos every Wednesday!
My guest Damian, and I, are greeted with a friendly smile and offered a drink before we are seated. The selection of ales, wines and spirits here is about as good as it gets. I’ve seen many of Brum’s ‘movers and shakers’ wobbling about in here over the past few years, well oiled, as the saying goes.
You get a feeling The Plough would do well in any location, it is family friendly, light and airy with a large conservatory for extra seating and a funky beer garden hidden out back.
Our order was taken, but we weren’t rushed. The staff are busy attending to other tables, and you notice people are happy, smiling and relaxed.. The food smells great! Adam and his team’s attention to detail shines through, as does their penchant for cool music, which carries the night along nicely. Imagine chilled out jazz to Latin, reggae and soulful dubbed out house. The ambience is perfect.
The Boca Grande Tacos menu is limited to five options, you get four of those for just £12.50. Between us we opted for everything- obviously!
Spiced Pork Belly to Chilli Battered Cod
Our boards of Tacos arrived swiftly, were hot and colourful, but where to start?
I first tucked into the Spiced Pork Belly with Slow-Cooked Apple, Pickled Red Cabbage and Caramelised Nuts. The pork belly was soft and delicious, and the apple a clever addition. The nuts added a slight crunch and it left me looking forward to the next taco.
Now for the Chilli Battered Cod which was garnished with Lime, Ripped Herbs and Nuoc Cham Dressing. The cod tasted fresh, and flaked into my mouth with every crunch. The batter wasn’t greasy at all, more filling than you would imagine. Whilst the herbs and dressing were really zinging through, it didn’t overpower the fish. An ingeniously crafted tasty taco, I could have ordered four of these, perhaps sneaking off into the beer garden to eat all alone, undisturbed.
As a lover of Buffalo Chicken I had to allow my taste buds to rest, with a few swigs of my perfectly poured Wye Valley Ale. The Buffalo Chicken arrives with Celery, Blue Cheese Cream and Guindillas Chilli. It was hot, spicy and succulent, nothing more to say here other than I ended up eating two.
Vegetarians will be pleased to know there’s a Mixed Bean Chilli taco. This was one of the spiciest and tastiest tacos, I thought. Arriving with Feta, Crushed Avocado, Lime and Sour Cream. I don’t think it would be a problem to order four of these and not feel too gluttonous!
Finally, last on the list, Slow Cooked Chorizo and Chilli taco. Salty, rich in flavour and filling, but so hot I had to take a couple of breaks with the help of the trusted Wye Valley ale, dousing the flames inside my mouth. Maybe it was the gradual build up of heat from previous tacos, or more likely the fact I’d poured on some additional Pip’s Boca Grand hot sauce – what a dope! The Spring Onion and Feta, while a great accompaniment, did nothing to ease the pain. However, I still thoroughly enjoyed this taco and shoveled a second one down minus additional hot sauce. Glutton for punishment and a mouth like asbestos (I was once dared to eat a Habanero chilli which wasn’t so much fun).
But this menu isn’t just about the tacos, you can order a Tequila Sangria with a choice of Kah Tequilla: Blanco (£5.50), Reposado (£6.50) and Anejo (£6.50). I honestly can’t remember which one I had but it was a perfect end to an extremely enjoyable evening of food and drink.
We were happy to relax and savour the explosions of taco taste, and as the lights dimmed down, there was a sound of crickets chirping above the music (no seriously there were, unless it was hallucinations from Pips sauce?).
I have two firm favourites when it comes to Mexican cuisine, Bodega on Bennett’s Hill and The Mex in St Ive’s, Cornwall (fish curry there is amazing).. and now to add a third, The Plough, Harborne on Wednesdays. Great addition to an already delicious menu, see you there with a hanky dabbing my forehead whilst sucking ice cubes!
You can order four Boca Grande Tacos at The Plough, Harborne for £12.50 on a Wednesday, with sides of Sour Cream (£1.50) and Guacamole (£2.00).
Review by Nick Byng for Grapevine Birmingham.